By The Associated Press
AUBURN, Ala. — Federal authorities are investigating suspended Auburn point guard Varez Ward for alleged point shaving involving in at least two games this season, Yahoo Sports reported Thursday.
The report cited anonymous sources and said the FBI began an investigation in late February centering on losses to Alabama on Feb. 7 and Arkansas on Jan. 25.
NCAA officials say they are “very concerned” by the allegations and have been in contact with the school and federal investigators since the issue arose last month.
“The NCAA takes any allegation of point shaving very seriously because sports wagering threatens two of our core principles — the well-being of student-athletes and the very integrity of intercollegiate sport,” the NCAA said in a written statement Thursday. “As allegations of point shaving, if proven, are also potential federal crimes, the NCAA will defer action until any process with the FBI has concluded.”
Ward and guard Chris Denson were both suspended before a Feb. 25 game against Arkansas, but Denson returned for the next game. Denson was questioned and cleared of involvement in point shaving, the report said.
“Auburn officials were made aware of a rumor regarding an allegation two weeks ago and immediately reported it to the FBI, the NCAA and the SEC,” Auburn said in a statement Thursday. “Because of the nature of the allegation, Auburn is not in a position to make any further comment on the situation.”
The report said a player reported concerns to an assistant coach in late February.
Auburn coach Tony Barbee has said only that Ward and Denson violated team rules. Ward didn’t play in the final three games of the regular season or travel with the team to New Orleans for the Southeastern Conference tournament, where the Tigers open with Thursday night’s game against Mississippi.
Yahoo Sports reported that other Auburn players were questioned about whether Ward tried to get them to participate in the alleged point shaving.
Ward, a Texas transfer, has averaged 9.0 points a game and leads the Tigers in assists.
Ward scored three points and had six turnovers in the 68-50 loss to Alabama, playing 17 minutes. Vegas Insider said Alabama was favored by five points.
Ward lasted only 19 seconds after coming off the bench in the 56-53 defeat against Arkansas before crumpling to the floor. Barbee later said Ward took a knee to the right leg he had injured early in his sophomore season with the Longhorns, when he ruptured his quadriceps tendon on a dunk during pregame warmups. Auburn still covered the 9½-point spread.
In between those games, Ward had his hottest streak of the season. He scored 53 points in a three-game stretch, including 24 against Mississippi State.
Ward has not commented publicly since his suspension. His last Twitter post was on Feb. 24 when he tweeted, “Can’t win for losing smh” (shaking my head). It was the last in a series of posts that day, the first saying that his knee was “hurting bad.”
Ward sat out last season under transfer rules and has two years of eligibility remaining.